Does Retinaldehyde Provide The Anti-Aging Benefits Of Retinol Without The Side Effects?

by Gio
is retinaldehyde more effective than retinol

Lately, I’ve been cheating on Retinol with its cousin, Retinaldehyde.

I know, I know. But, hear me out before judging me.

I first met Retinol in my mid-20s. It promised to help me fight those pesky crows’ feet that were already starting to creep up around my eyes and keep wrinkles away. What could I do but fall in love?

But retinol isn’t the gentlest lover. Yes, it keeps its promises, but it can be so irritating. Flaking, stinging, redness… you go overboard a little and you’ll regret it.

Retinaldehyde is gentler. It fights wrinkles as well as retinol, but it doesn’t leave you with a red, peeling face. What can I say? It knows how to win a girl’s heart.

Here’s why you should consider making the switch from Retinol to Retinaldehyde, too:

What Is Retinaldehyde?

Retinaldehyde (a.k.a. retinal) and retinol belong to the same family: Retinoids.

Retinoids are all forms of Vitamin A. The pure form is called Retinoid Acid (the active ingredient in Tretinoin), but it’s super harsh on the skin. That’s why scientists have been working on gentler derivatives, like retinol and retinaldehyde.

To work their magic on wrinkles, they both have to be converted to Retinoid Acid. Retinaldehyde converts in one step. Retinol takes two. Like this:

Retinyl Palmitate > Retinol > Retinaldehyde > Retinoic acid

As a rule, the closer a form of Vitamin A is to Retinoid Acid, the better and faster it works.

P.S. Retinaldehyde can be converted to Retinol too.

Related: What’s The Best Form Of Vitamin A For You?

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Can Retinaldehyde Fight Wrinkles?

Yes. Retinaldehyde is a form of Vitamin A and all forms of Vitamin A have some effects on wrinkles. The real question is: how well does Retinaldehyde do the job?

A 1999 French study tested a Retinaldehyde 0.05% cream against an emollient cream without Retinaldehyde. The results were clear. Retinaldehyde make skin thicker and more elastic. 

A study conducted by Dr Boisnic went a step further and researched the effects of a 0.05% Retinaldehyde cream on sun damaged skin. The results were impressive: “in all UVA-exposed and then Retinaldehyde-treated skin specimens, collagen and elastic fibers were restored to the level of nonexposed skin. It has been shown that Retinaldehyde has many of the properties of Tretinoin” in treating photo aging.

Retinaldehyde does this even better than Retinol. According to a 2006 study, 0.05% retinaldehyde is as effective as 0.05% Retinoic Acid (Tretinoin) for the treatment of photoaging. In comparison, retinol is 20 times less potent than Tretinoin and it requires further conversion to Retinoic Acid (in vivo*)”.

*In human skin.

Related: The Complete Guide To Retinol: What It Is, What It Does, And Side Effects

medik8 crystal retinal 6

Can Retinaldeyde Fight Acne, Too?

Vitamin A doesn’t just fights wrinkles. It fights acne, too. Retinaldehyde does the job particularly well. Here’s why:

FYI, retinaldehyde won’t single-handedly get rid of acne. But, it’s a powerful ally in the fight against it.

Related: Adult Acne: Why It Happens And How To Treat It

Can Retinaldehyde Cause Breakouts?

No. Retinaldehyde doesn’t cause breakouts. But it can cause purging. The difference?

Breakouts happen when your pores get clogged. Retinaldehyde doesn’t clog them (FYI, that doesn’t mean another ingredient in the product won’t).

Purging happens when you exfoliate skin at a faster rate. This brings to the surface the breakouts that were brewing underneath.

BUT, while a breakout lasts for as long as you’re using the offending products, purging is over once all the breakouts have come to the fore. It usually takes 4-6 weeks. After that, your skin is CLEAR.

Related: Purging VS Breakouts: How Can You Tell The Difference?

Is Retinaldehyde Safe For Sensitive Skin?

Retinoic Acid, the active form of Vitamin A, is irritating as hell. That’s why it’s available by prescription only.

OTC forms, like Retinaldehyde and Retinol, are gentler. But, as you well know, Retinol can still make your skin flake and peel if you use too much too soon or if your skin is sensitive.

Is Retinaldehyde as irritating, too?

A German study compared the irritation potential of both Retinaldehyde and Retinol and concluded they are both gentler than Retinoic Acid. 

But, they both can still cause some irritation. You may want to start slowly with Retinaldehyde, too.

Is Retinaldehyde Safe During Pregnancy?

Short answer: we don’t know.

Research shows that high doses of Vitamin A cause birth defects in rats. Human studies on this can’t be done (for obvious reasons!!).

Those animal studies are enough for experts to recommend you don’t use any forms of Vitamin A while pregnant or breast-feeding.

It’s true that the risk with retinaldehyde is infinitesimals small. Retinaldehyde isn’t Retinoic Acid. Plus, it’s used in very tiny doses in skincare.

Still, why take the risk?

Related: What Skincare Ingredients Should You Avoid During Pregnancy?

What Are The Best Skincare Products With Retinaldehyde?

And here comes the catch. Retinaldehyde is expensive and very hard to formulate with. That’s why so few brands use it. Heck, even The Ordinary hasn’t been able to bring it to market at an affordable price (yet).

If you want to try retinaldehyde, here are your best options:

Retinaldehyde VS Retinol: Which One Is Better?

Retinaldehyde is more powerful than retinol, yet it’s just as gentle. If you’re looking for a retinoid that goes the extra mile (and you don’t mind paying more for it), make the switch.

Do you use products with Retinaldehyde? Share your faves in the comments below.



Makeup Morsels August 10, 2011 - 5:41 am

Really interesting post, as I’ve used Retinol in the past to combat acne, but always had to apply it on/off, as it would start to seriously dry out my skin at times. Retinaldehyde sounds pretty promising, have you tried it?

beautifulwithbrains August 10, 2011 - 8:32 am

Makeup Morsels, Retinaldehyde may be a better option for you then. So far, the research is very promising indeed. Unfortunately, I haven’t tried it yet. I’ve been looking for products containing it lately but I haven’t come across them yet. I guess that’s cos I live in a small city and not many brands are available here. But as soon as I find one, I’ll buy and review it straight away. 🙂

Lynn Chapman November 18, 2016 - 7:49 pm

A stabilized form of retinaldehyde is available from a new skincare company, The product is called Dragone D’Or Super Stimulator. You can but it online. The company has a 20% discount offer because it is new. Also there are impressive before + after pics for crows feet, wrinkles, discoloration + redness. It has 28
5 star reviews and is patent-pending. I’ve been a retin A user all of my life but like this MUCH better. My skin is incredible and I don’t have the redness of the retin a. Worked really well for my wrinkles + crows feet too!

Susanna January 2, 2018 - 7:26 pm

Hi Gio-

I am curious to know the what 2006 study you read that stated retinaldehyde is as effective as retinoic acid at .05%? I am looking for that study! : ) Any name or link would be very helpful and very appreciated, thanks!

Gio January 19, 2018 - 4:18 pm
Sally Hue August 19, 2018 - 12:16 am

Great article. There’s a huge amount of talk on IG about Medik8 Crystal Retinal. Wasn’t on your list so I thought it was worth posting here. I am about to buy as I’ve had amazing results with their retinols. And your article mentions some of the same studies they do. Can’t believe more isn’t out there with retinaldehyde.

Gio September 7, 2018 - 1:45 pm

Sally, I think I wrote this article before Crystal Retinal came out so that’s why it’s not on the list. But I’ve reviewed it here:

I wish more brands used retinal too but it’s so difficulty to stabilise, many prefer to stick to retinol.

Anna October 18, 2018 - 11:07 pm

So retinal and retinaldehyde are the same thing, is that right?
But closer to retinoic acid than retinol? That’s my understanding.

Gio October 25, 2018 - 1:39 pm

Anna, yes that is correct.

retin a survivor February 25, 2019 - 11:39 pm

retinaldehyde also modulates tha amount of retronic acid the skin can absorb at one time.

Gio February 28, 2019 - 6:21 pm

Retin A Survivor, that’s good to know. Thanks for sharing.

CKJ March 11, 2019 - 6:52 pm

You can also purchase Retinaldehyde in 3 different strengths from Avene, if you’re in Europe it’s very cheap, no more than 25 euros. ( Ystheal) I believe in the US and Canada Avene also sells it, but it’s much more expensive. Cheaper to order from an online European pharmacy, UK, France, Netherlands.
I’ve been using it for 3 months, started 2x a week and a month later i’ve moved to 3x a week. No irritation and am seeing results with photo ageing and wrinkles.

Gio March 15, 2019 - 3:47 pm

CKJ, that’s wonderful, thanks for sharing. 🙂

Jeff March 15, 2019 - 11:30 pm

is it more stable than retinol????

Gio March 16, 2019 - 12:36 pm

Jeff, yes it is!

Mo February 3, 2020 - 9:11 pm

Hi, I was wondering if I can use Avene retinaldehyde once a week and retinol twice a week? I’ve been using PCA Skin brightening retinol and like that it has niacinimide and resveratrol.

Gio February 8, 2020 - 7:49 am

Mo, why do you need two retinoids? Save your money, pick one and use it every other day (or less, if that’s too much for your skin).

KS June 15, 2020 - 8:30 pm

Hi Gio, I’m on the Agame from Geek&Gorgeous. I rally like it though. Is it passieve for me to switch to the clinical 1% retinol treatment?

Gio July 14, 2020 - 9:51 am

KS, I wouldn’t. Keep building up tolerance to retinol with slightly higher %.

Tali June 22, 2020 - 7:30 am

Hey Gio, great post (and one of the few technical ones I’ve made it to the end of!). My skin clinic recommended the following serum: it has Retinaldehyde which I was googling (hence I ended up here!) but I’ve never heard of the brand. I just wondered if it’s one you’ve heard of or whether you think it’s worth it based on the ingredients, honestly they made it sound amazing but it’s beyond me. I’ve read up on the first couple of ingredients and I’m still non the wiser, would really value your opinion.

Gio July 14, 2020 - 10:07 am

Tali, it’s a good serum. It’ll work but it’s way overpriced! You can get a serum with retinaldehyde that gives you the same results at a fraction of the cost. Check out the recommendations in this post for good examples.

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